“Motoring journalists have elaborate expectations often at odds with those of the public. They exist in a world of privileged isolation from the humdrum realities of doing the school run or moving a wheelbarrow to Wales. Instead, they jet business class to Andalucia or the Côte d’Azur to test immaculately fettled and valeted, top-specification new cars in ideal conditions between absurdly expensive restaurants.” There. Somebody had to say it and Stephen Bayley just has in The Telegraph.
He decently admitted to having often been a beneficiary of these indulgencies. So have we all. Stephen’s point was not so much a criticism of motoring journalists as the expected announcement of what I suppose we must now call European Car of the Year (COTY). It would like to be called Everywhere Car of the Year but there are now so many of them it can’t. The Range Rover Evoque recently chalked up its fiftieth award, which included Car of the Year in the UK Auto Express New Car Honours, Scottish Car of the Year, US Motor Trend's SUV of the Year, BBC Top Gear's Car of the Year, Car and Driver Spain Car of the Year, the Design Trophy from l'Automobile in France and a host of cars of the year in China.
There was some logic in motoring journalists electing cars of the year simply because they drive everything and can compare. Yet any self-selecting jury has shortcomings. As Stephen points out it can include a minority of hairy-bottomed examples of the caste, who still believe that the true test of a car is its ability to respond to the throttle in the power oversteer of a four-wheel-drift, as exemplified in the tyre-smoking antics of Top Gear presenters.
This blog has dealt with the anomalies of COTY before, and I agree with Stephen on its errors of judgement like the 1979 Chrysler Horizon, and the fact that Rover has won twice and Renault many more times than Porsche deserves scrutiny. “With six accolades, Renault is second only to Fiat, which has nine. In some ways that is fair because Renault has a fine tradition of innovation in design. But the statistic fails to acknowledge that very few people go to sleep at night dreaming One day I will own a Mégane.”
I also agree that last year’s COTY, the electric Nissan Leaf, is a bold, but misfired, experiment. My views on COTY have been challenged on the grounds that I was never a member of the jury. Fred van der Vlugt invited me soon after creating the award in the 1960s. I was British correspondent of his Autovisie magazine for many years when he took the initiative to consolidate the multiple international awards, but it was before I wrote for anything as influential as The Sunday Times, which he wanted. I joined his panel on Car of the Century many years later.
Rumour suggests yet another UKCOTY initiative is mooted. Not wise. The coinage is not wholly debased. But proliferation would reduce it to small change.
Best chance for another Car of the Year; Range Rover Evoque at Eastnor Castle